When Wilo Benet first began his career, he played the drums to relax, enjoyed a round of golf on a sunny day, and took photographs of nature just for fun. But now that he is the head of a growing culinary empire, those three pastimes have become part of his work. A golf outing almost always includes talk of business ventures. His photos of wildlife have been commissioned by a local resort to decorate their walls. And as for drumming, well, he and a local band throw music and dinner events where patrons get to see Chef Benet play a few songs then cook up a meal fit for a king. Some might say that he has sacrificed his leisure time for work, but Wilo doesn’t see it that way. “I do what I love,” he explains, and the blurring of work and play are just fine with him.
After graduating from the CIA, Wilo worked at such New York City destination restaurants as Maurice at the Parker Meridien, Le Bernardin, and the Water Club. But when an opportunity arose to work side-by-side with his future wife at the Governor’s Mansion in his native Puerto Rico, he took it. What followed after their two-year stint there is a testament to hard work and tenacity.
In 1990, Wilo opened Pikayo, his first fine-dining restaurant, in the Puerto Rico Museum of Art in San Juan. His unique approach to blending local, French, Italian, and American cuisine has won him many accolades. His second venture, Payá, is an inviting casual dining restaurant meant for the young working professional. His catering operation at the Museum offers elegant and diverse events. And, he opened his third restaurant, Varita, which features a wood-burning rotisserie and focus on comfort foods from Puerto Rico, Italy, and the U.S. His first book, Puerto Rico True Flavors is now available.
Wilo speaks openly about the impact his CIA degree has had on his current success. “The CIA taught me to understand processes and the importance of discipline in producing a quality product time and again,” he explains. “Being a CIA graduate puts you in a special league—there’s prestige attached to the degree that you don’t get from anywhere else.”
Benet has been a guest chef at the James Beard Foundation and a spokesperson for UNICEF’S Puerto Rico Chapter “Tap Water” Campaign. He’s been featured on Bizarre Food with Andrew Zimmern and competed on Top Chef Masters. Whether he is acting as judge in a season finale of Top Chef, serving up fine food at the Hampton’s Food and Wine Festival, dishing up delights at Taste of Tennis at the U.S. Open, or starting his own wine label from Spain, Wilo seems to be laboring under a lucky star. Or maybe not, because, as Wilo says, “luck is the outcome of hard work…and that work is what makes us lucky.”